Fisheries New Zealand is seeking feedback on options to manage the squid fishery in New Zealand’s subantarctic islands, which overlaps with important sea lion habitat.
Sea lions are classified as ‘Nationally Vulnerable’ and breed in the subantarctic Auckland Islands and Campbell Island. The squid fishery, called Squid 6T, overlaps with their foraging range in this area, says Fisheries New Zealand’s acting director of fisheries management, Robert Gear.
The latest assessment of the sea lion population this year estimated a total of 10,000 animals. However there has been a significant drop in the number of new pups born in the Auckland Islands breeding grounds. There are 24% less pups born there this year compared to last year.
“The reason for the drop is unclear and is being investigated by the Department of Conservation. It cannot be linked to a disease outbreak and there has been no associated increase in sea lions being caught by fishing vessels,” said Mr Gear.
The fishery has high levels of observer coverage. Since 2017 an average of 94% of all trawls or “tows”, have been observed. During that time commercial fishing has been responsible for an average of four sea lion deaths (observed and estimated) each year.
Nets which allow captured sea lions to escape before coming to harm, have significantly reduced the threat from fishing.
One of the key regulatory measures for the fishery is the Fishing Related Mortality Limit (FRML), which sets the maximum number of sea lion deaths each year (observed and estimated) that can occur in the fishery before it is closed. The proposals include reducing the current FRML to reflect the lower estimated population of sea lions.
The options include proposals on:
- the maximum number of sea lions captures (observed and estimated) that can occur in the fishery before it is closed
- the proportion of fishing trips that are required to have a government observer on board, and
- the duration of the operational plan.
“Sea lions are a taonga species, and we know there will be a lot of views about the best ways to make sure captures are minimised.”
“We encourage everyone with an interest in these precious marine mammals to have their say. Submissions can be made online by 5pm on 31 July,” said Mr Gear.
The operational fishing plan is one part of a larger effort to protect against threats to New Zealand sea lions in the Threat Management Plan for New Zealand sea lions – Department of Conservation (DOC)
More information including how to make a submission can be found at Southern Squid Trawl Fishery (SQU 6T) Operational Plan.